NBC 4 New York
Some say police should have negotiated with the armed suspect instead of entering the home where he held the victim hostage. Pei-Sze Cheng reports.
As a family prepared for the funeral of a Hofstra University junior killed by a police officer's bullet during a standoff with an armed intruder, some on Monday questioned whether officers should have confronted the gunman or waited for help, including a hostage negotiating team.
The dead woman's godfather criticized the police handling of the confrontation as unprofessional and others offered insights into the difficulty of making the call to use deadly force.
A key question is whether the officers responding to the house near the Hofstra campus at 2:30 a.m. Friday were aware the intruder was holding hostages. Police officials described the initial report as simply a robbery in progress.
"It's not at all clear that they had clear, verifiable, reliable information that this was a hostage situation," said Eugene O'Donnell, a former NYPD officer and professor of law and police studies at John Jay College. "If it was clearly established in advance, then that would be different protocol."
One of the two officers who entered the home found the intruder holding 21-year-old Andrea Rebello in a headlock and "kept saying 'I'm going to kill her,' and then he pointed the gun at the police officer," said county homicide squad Lt. John Azzata. That's when the officer, who has not been identified, fired eight times, fatally striking 30-year-old Dalton Smith with seven shots and Rebello with one shot to the head.
Smith, who had a 9 mm pistol, never fired a shot, police said.
Edward Mamet, who spent 40 years as an NYPD officer and appears as an expert witness on police procedure, said if the responding officers knew hostages were inside the house, they should have taken a cautious approach and waited for back-up.
"Unless it's clearly indicated that the lives of hostages and any bystanders are in jeopardy," Mamet said. "If that's the case, then everything goes out the window."
O'Donnell said, "This has to also be balanced with the possibility that if you don't know that, and you did wait outside, something horrible could have happened to one of more of the people in the house while you're waiting outside."
Police Commissioner Thomas Dale said the criminal investigation is ongoing and an internal police department investigation will follow. A spokesman for the district attorney's office said Monday it also was monitoring the police investigation.
James Carver, president of the Nassau County Patrolman's Benevolent Association, which represents the officer, did not return telephone calls for comment. He scheduled a Tuesday news conference to discuss the case.
"It's going to be so important to review all the messages and the recordings of their responses and put it all together," Mamet said.
Henrique Santos of Eastchester, Rebello's godfather, spoke outside the Rebello family home in Tarrytown and handed out a statement from the family.
"We are heartbroken and overwhelmingly devastated by the loss of our beautiful daughter, Andrea," the statement said. "We are grateful for all of the kindness and sympathy shown to our family. In our grief, we ask for privacy as we try to make sense of all that has happened."
Santos spoke briefly.
"I think the police is not very professional," he said of the accidental shooting. "If he's professional, he should have tried negotiation."
Speaking about the surviving twin Jessica, he said, "She's sleeping too much. We had to try to give her some food. When she wakes up, she says 'Oh my god, what did I do wrong?'"
The officer who fired the shots is an eight-year NYPD veteran and has been with Nassau County police for 12 years. He is now out on sick leave. Andrea Rebello's funeral is Wednesday.
-- Pei-Sze Cheng contributed to this report.